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Winning Play: Losing MacKinnon

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Colorado Avalanche goaltender Philipp Grubauer and center Nathan MacKinnon defend against a shot by San Jose Sharks right wing Kevin Labanc as left wing Marcus Sorensen stumbles in the third period of Game 2 of the second round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Pla John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The San Jose Sharks had mixed results checking Nathan MacKinnon’s speed in Game 2.

In my series preview, I spoke with a former head coach who put a heavy emphasis on the F3 making contact with MacKinnon on the other side of the ice, to prevent the superstar speedster from generating speed:

In this clip from January, two Sharks forecheckers (F1: Joe Thornton, 19; F2: Lukas Radil, 52) pursued the puck. However, Erik Johnson (6) was able to stick it above Thornton. MacKinnon closed on the loose change, but F3 Timo Meier (28), managed to catch MacKinnon at his first steps.

The same coach added, “That’s dangerous though because he’s a great give-and-go player and hard to hit.”

On the lead-up to the Gabriel Landeskog last night, we saw what happens when the F3 (Evander Kane, 9) doesn’t make enough contact:

Here’s what happens when your F3 makes too much contact with the Colorado Avalanche superstar:

How the Sharks contain MacKinnon’s speed on the other side of the ice will be one of the most fascinating things to watch throughout this series. As we all know by now, once MacKinnon gets going, watch out.

Reversal of fortune

It’s so easy to be a hero in one moment, a goat in the next in the playoffs. Such are the stakes, where millions of dollars can be won or lost with a flick of the wrist, an inch here, an inch there.

Marcus Sorensen is the latest case study of this.

In Game 1, it was Sorensen who turned a 2-1 deficit around with a blocked shot.

San Jose finished the contest with four unanswered goals, three created by the Sorensen, Joe Thornton and Kevin Labanc line. This trio was, deservedly, the toast of the town after Game 1.

Sorensen, the quietest member of the line, let his game do the talking, but Peter DeBoer and Labanc were happy to speak for him. DeBoer pointed to Thornton as recognizing Sorensen’s underrated offensive ability before even the coach himself, Labanc credited Sorensen with doing a number of the little things important to a well-rounded line.

In Game 2, however, there was a very public reversal of fortune. Such is life on the biggest stage in the sport.

Matt Nieto (83) jumped a Sorensen (20) breakout pass, creating chaos that would give Colorado a 3-1 lead.

When asked for comment, Sorensen didn’t have much to say about what happened.

Jared Bednar, however, was eager to praise Nieto’s contribution: “Great job re-loading, keeping the puck alive in the offensive zone. It’s a quick shot from Barrie again, sees the guys open at the net.”

Brenden Dillon offered: “The puck got slung to the net, Calvert was jamming away at it. Puck squeaked through Jonesy, I kind of lost track of it for a second. I got a piece of it. It kind of ricocheted back into the net.”

Bednar added: “That’s what Nieto does there. He comes right into that area, off the back post. He stays there while Calvert’s battling. The second and third effort on that puck to put it behind turns out to be huge.”

The players, of course, know better than anybody else what a long journey the playoffs are. Sorensen’s gaffe here was a reminder of how quickly and dramatically things can change in the post-season.

Labanc was benched for the duration of the third period in Game 5 against Vegas, only to respond with an all-time great third period performance in Game 7. Martin Jones was pulled in Games 2 and 4 against the Golden Knights, only to stop 122 of the next 129 shots to spearhead the Sharks’ stunning 3-1 series deficit comeback.

The playoffs are so high and low, the ability to stay even-keel is paramount. That should be no problem for the stoic Swedish winger.